No reset, no restart — no deal with Moscow

“Reset” is the trendy way the Obama Administration describes its Russian efforts. In his “comprehensive” approach, Mr. Obama reversed Condoleeza Rice’s foreign policy haiku ending with “neglect Russia”. Instead of that virtualization, the Obama Administration has gone crashing ahead trying to set up a new relationship with an extremely fragile Moscow regime.

Mr. Obama’s charm offensive hasn’t gone any place for the simple reason Russia is an old, wounded wolf, armed with the fangs of an ageing nuclear arsenal, but with the stench of death. Falling longevity among men, alcoholism, HIV-AIDS, etc., and a nonreplacement birthrate could cut Russia’s 150 million by 20 million in the next 20 years.

Any IT nerd could have told Secretary Hillary Clinton if you push the reset button, and it doesn’t work, you have to start looking for a new motherboard, power supply, video card, or memory. Maybe memory is key given our long Cold War history.

It’s true Mr. Obama’s interlocutor Vladimir Putin’s popularity appears high [probably higher than Mr. Obama’s]. But it’s explained by the old Russian lament, “If the Tsar only knew …”, protecting Kremlin rulers as Ras clambered back into an authoritarian state.

In a bid to set up a Barry-Vlad relationship, Mr. Obama quickly canceled painfully negotiated agreements with the Poles and Czechs of anti-ICBM deployments. Defense Sec. Robert Gates guarantees a more effective shorter range substitute. But mid-January Iranian space flights are not very reassuring as they presage Tehran ICBMs.

If the Central European abandonment was supposed to produce Russia’s help in halting the mullahs’ nukes, it hasn’t. For the moment, Moscow hides behind Beijing’s opposition to stringent sanctions. And the Kremlin just announced it won’t cut off missiles technology which [along with Chinese and North Korean transfers] fuels the mullahs’ program. Furthermore, Moscow’s is huffing because Washington also needs Romania for the new deployment, treading where the Russians believe they deserve hegemony. And for the new program Washington has had to hustle anti-misile defenses in the Persian Gulf oil sheikhdoms, objects of growing Iranian bellicosity — and seduction.

Picking up on every president since the Soviets got the hydrogen bomb, Mr. Obama reportedly is about to conclude a new strategic arms agreement. That’s seen as incremental progress toward the old vision of a nuclear-free world. Professions of that blessed future got Mr. Obama to Oslo. Truth is the Russians, despite their propaganda, will accept the deal with alacrity because it only confirms the erosion of their weaponry but commits the U.S. to cutbacks. [Moscow’s newest ICBM keeps failing tests, threatening overall Russian strategy.] Perhaps that’s a draw; Mr. Obama apparently intends to refit our nuclear warheads, a controversial but necessary maintenance.

Efforts, generally, to woo the Russians back into the post-Soviet implosion era of good-feeling isn’t on line. All observers – not just those tacky meaningless polls – report Russian anti-Americanism skyrocketing, despite Mr. Obama’s worldwide mea culpas. Tattered negotiations to get Moscow into the World Trade Organization have stymied over issues the Bush Administration couldn’t budge. Beleaguered Special Trade Rep. Ron Kirk’s office doesn’t want to talk about it.  The Russians have even threatened $800 million in American chicken imports, one of the few trade deals going.

The agreement to help Washington out in Afghanistan by transiting non-lethal cargo because of Pakistan’s deterioration has stymied. Mr. Putin’s efforts to thwart U.S. bases in the Stans have failed. But Vice Pres. Cheney’s “southern energy corridor” to move Central Asian fossil fuels to markets through Turkey, with lower world recession demand is further sabotaged with Russian counter-initiatives and Ankara’s growing love affair with Moscow.

But even with the oil price creeping back up, Moscow’s mainstay economic prop is troubled. The gas monopoly Gazprom is creaking. Intrigue to control European markets has drained resources from poorly maintained pipelines, away from new prospecting. Were there weather or some other emergency, it’s doubtful Moscow could meet West European commitments. Going for East Asia markets – including extended negotiations with Beijing – has soured. Mr. Putin’s confiscation of European and Japanese Sakhalin equities has the majors thinking twice about lending capital and technology essential for the next oil and gas push in the Far East and the Arctic.

Minor political rebellions at both ends of the Federation – in the Maritime Provinces and in the Kaliningrad enclave – are symptomatic of what could develop into another implosion. Internal democratic forces have been squelched. But Russia’s large Muslim minority is increasingly restive. Mr. Putin’s Georgian aggression last summer, setting up two new Potemkin states, has only aggravated the running sore on his southern flank. Not only has Chechnya not been pacified, but terrorism is spreading to neighboring “republics”. Attempts to organize a state Muslim organization to match the compliant Orthodox Church has come a cropper. There is new Moscow-Muslim Tatarstan tension. [Lenin can’t go home again.].

Still, Russian bombast and Mr. Putin’s macho photographs seem to have mesmerized Washington. Never mind if the computer has hanged.



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